Fix or Kill Lame Projects

Symptom:  You feel trapped by a project from hell -- it won't die, yet it won't succeed either.  It just plods along, slowly, inexorably, day after day, week after week, onward but not upward.  Your energy is sapped and you are thinking about dusting off your resume and shopping it around...

Cure:  Force a crisis that will either fix or kill your lame project.

Why it Works:  You need to deal with lame projects aggressively, before somebody else does.  Because, believe me, somebody eventually will deal with the lame project, and it will not be pleasant.

A lame project is one that is underfunded, ill-defined, set up to fail, has lukewarm support from management, or something similar.  You cannot afford to be associated with lame projects, for many reasons:
  • The stigma of the lame project can rub off on you and limit your career.
  • The lame project might get terminated abruptly, leaving you scrambling to find another job either inside or outside the company.
  • At the very least, a bad project will sap your energy and enthusiasm for your work.  And this will certainly diminish your performance on the job.
Where do lame projects come from?  After all, every project seemed like a good idea at inception.  But, along the way, things in the environment change -- the market, the competition, the technology, whatever.  In a lame project, the project scope and charter do not change to align to the new reality.  Often it is politically easier for managers to keep a project going than to kill it outright.  This is bad project management, and a bad practice.  But it happens all the time, even in good companies.
Learn to spot a lame project quickly, and then fix, kill, or avoid it.
You need to stay away from, or get off bad projects.  But how?  Simple, really.  You force a crisis. It's not too hard to do.  Ask a few simple questions of the project sponsors and see what answers you get:
  • Where is the spec?  If there is no spec, it's not a project, it's an activity.  A very bad sign.
  • Who is the customer?  If there is no lead customer who you know will buy the thing you are working on, that is a bad sign.
  • What is the ROI?  It had better be reasonable, and positive, with upside.
  • Where is the schedule?  Are we on schedule?  If there is no schedule, run away!
  • What is the budget?  Are we under budget?  Projects that are over budget draw attention from high-level executives, often far removed from the details of what you are doing.  Not good.
Taking on these issues directly will force your company's management to take notice of you, which will also raise your visibility within the company.  And that is a good thing.

Hopefully the project shapes up (good), or it goes away and you are assigned to a new, better project (also good).  Either way, you win by being proactive and aggressive.

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